Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris shills for T-Mobile ads

Former action star makes surprising turn in Czech campaign

Chuck Norris doesn’t need to canvass; he just has to stand there to become the hottest advertising campaign in the Czech Republic.

The 70-year-old former action movie star has become an Internet and television sensation in a series of advertisements for T-Mobile’s Czech Republic Christmas campaign, which often features the martial-arts guru standing mutely and awkwardly in the home of a Czech family at Christmas.

“Chuck Norris has always fought for the right thing, and we like that,” Martina Kemrová, a spokeswoman for T-Mobile, said of the company’s choice. “Everyone knows Chuck Norris facts and jokes. We wanted to go beyond those and show Chuck in a typical Czech family setting in the idyllic atmosphere of Christmas – exactly what you would not expect from Chuck Norris. That’s also what he liked and why he agreed to come to Prague.”

The company took on Norris as their advertising icon for the pre-Christmas period of November through December to market all T-Mobile products, particularly T-Mobile TV, Kemrová said.

“He was a star of the great Western movies we all started watching some 20 years ago when satellite TV first came to the Czech Republic, so it makes sense for him to launch a satellite TV product,” she said.

Kemrová would not reveal the value of Norris’ contract but said the company had invested “tens of millions” of crowns into the campaign. The magazine Marketing & Media reported Norris’ contract to be valued at around $500,000 (8.75 million Kč).

The television ads have already gotten hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube since the campaign was launched in early November. In one particularly popular video that has already gotten more than 700,000 hits, a woman asks Norris to take a picture of her kid ice skating, which in Czech (bruslí) sounds like “Bruce Lee.” Confusion ensues, with Norris insisting he’s not Bruce Lee. In another, the legendary tough man passes out after the Czech housewife bashes the head of the traditional Christmas carp with a wooden mallet.

The success of the campaign is largely due to the popularity of Norris’ television show, Walker, Texas Ranger, according to David Stogel, the executive and programming director for TV Nova. Stogel said in just the January-March period of this year, reruns of the show, which originally aired on the U.S. television network CBS between 1993 and 2001, attracted an average of 365,000 viewers.

“In general, Czechs are enamored of foreign action stars like Jackie Chan, Wesley Snipes, Steven Seagal, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude van Damme – all of whom are not only action stars, but have some sort of martial-arts connection,” Stogel said. “Chuck Norris, although more of a television than film star, fits very much into that mold.”

The masterminds behind the advertisements is a team including Martin Jaroš, the director of marketing at T-Mobile in the Czech Republic, known for his previous Christmas campaign work at Vodafone two years ago that featured small dogs wearing reindeer outfits, and the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi’s Prague branch.

However, some marketing experts have said the popularity of the ads could actually backfire on T-Mobile, because viewers may forget what the whole campaign is about.

“The use of celebrities has its drawbacks,” said Tomáš Mrkvička, the planning director of the strategic unit at advertising group Ogilvy in Prague. “The personalities can draw the attention to themselves, and the perception of the brand can also carry the failures and excesses of a celebrity’s career and personal life, such as Michael Jackson for Pepsi and Tiger Woods for Accenture.”

The T-Mobile ad has been hugely popular abroad. The commercials, modified with subtitles, are already circulating on the Internet, and most every major pop-culture blog has picked up the story, including the infamous Perez Hilton, who posted his own spin of the classic Norris joke:

“Chuck Norris doesn’t need to act in Czech phone commercials. He chooses to because he’s fluent in every language that’s ever been in existence, and doing these phone commercials gives him the opportunity to take a break from boring English and speak in a different language with the actors on set.”

– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

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